A Night of Hope and Joy: ‘Children of the Smokies’

Feb 20, 2024 | by Eric Short

A Night of Hope and Joy: ‘Children of the Smokies'



By: Eric Short

On the evening of December 22, the Ridge Conference Center in Sevierville, Tennessee transformed into a haven of warmth and joy as The Salvation Army of Sevier County hosted their heartwarming event, "Children of the Smokies." This unforgettable night was made possible by the generous funds received from the iconic country music legend, Dolly Parton, as part of her gift to the National Red Kettle Campaign.

The Salvation Army of Sevier County, in collaboration with the Sevier County School System, extended an invitation to families facing economic challenges and homelessness. Thanks to the kindness of Dolly Parton, 226 Smoky Mountain families experienced the magic of the Christmas season with a hot meal and a special gift for each child.

Lieutenant Rashad Poole, corps officer for The Salvation Army in Sevier County, expressed the organization's motivation for hosting such a meaningful event. "We just wanted to host a special place for them to come tonight and to be loved on by so many amazing volunteers and people with The Salvation Army," said Lieutenant Poole.

The highlight of the evening was the special performances by Dolly Parton's nieces, Heidi Parton- Dent and Jada Star. Both artists, deeply inspired by their aunt's legacy of generosity, shared their musical talents with the crowd, spreading joy and adding a touch of magic to the festive atmosphere.

"You can tell that all the volunteers, all the workers for The Salvation Army, have worked their behinds off. It shows. There's a lot of love in here today," remarked Jada Star, echoing the sentiment of gratitude towards the dedicated team of volunteers who made the event possible.

Ms. Star, a featured performer at the event, enchanted the audience with her guitar and soulful renditions of Christmas favorites. Her presence added an extra layer of warmth to the gathering, creating memories that will linger in the hearts of the attendees.

"The Salvation Army wants to be a place of hope," Lt. Poole commented. "When you look around and you see all of our volunteers, they have ‘Hope' shirts on tonight. Some of the families that walk through the door tonight at the Ridge Conference Center may feel hopeless right now, they may feel like Christmas will not be joyful, but we're hoping to change that tonight, with just a smile," emphasized Poole, underlining the organization's commitment to spreading hope during the holiday season.

The event not only provided a festive meal for the families, but also featured engaging reindeer games for the children. Volunteers from The Salvation Army worked tirelessly to ensure every child and family felt cherished and cared for.

"The whole thing about Christmas is about spreading joy, and there is nothing better than seeing kids smile that don't really get anything. It's good to see the kids be happy for once because they don't get this a lot," shared Lucas Trotterchaud, one of the volunteers who dedicated their time and efforts to make the event a success.

The Ridge Conference Center echoed with laughter, festive melodies, and the spirit of giving, as volunteers prayed over families, reinforcing the sense of community and support. The atmosphere was one of unity, breaking down the barriers of circumstance and offering a respite for those who may be facing challenging times.

As Lieutenant Poole reflected on the evening, he shared, "The Salvation Army wants to be a place of hope, and tonight, we were able to be that place for so many families. We're grateful for Dolly Parton's generosity and the support of the community that made this event possible. Christmas is a time for joy, and we hope we were able to bring a little more joy to the hearts of those who needed it most."

The "Children of the Smokies" event, made possible through the collaboration of The Salvation Army of Sevier County, the Sevier County School System, and the generous donation from Dolly Parton, exemplifies the true spirit of Christmas — a season of giving, compassion, and hope. The legacy of kindness initiated by Ms. Parton continues to shine bright, creating a ripple effect of joy that extends far beyond the festive evening at the Ridge Conference Center.

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